Thorsten Askervold Cracks the Results Page in France!

 

Thorsten on his way to 5th place at Louison Bobet

Tête de la Course Cycling athlete Thorsten Askervold is living in France racing with the French development team Laval Cyclisme 53. He has raced close to a dozen races so far this season and was able to get on the results page in his last couple of races. Here is his report.

 

Coming to France to live and race this season has been a pretty steep learning curve. I will say though that as the season is rolling along my form is progressing every week. All of this racing I’m doing every week is developing me as racer and every week I feel like I am getting stronger and my mind is adapting to the European racing.

 

So far this year I’ve done more racing then I did all of last year. Which is a huge reason why I wanted to come to Europe in the first place (to develop). A couple of weeks ago I got my first top 5 result at “Louison Bobet”, which I was super stoked about. I was disappointed that I didn’t win but I was happy that my form had been progressing and that I was in a position to go for the win. Last Wednesday I also picked up 12th place at “GP U”.

 

All of these races so far have been really hilly and windy which seem to suit me well. In last week’s race, the hills and cross winds shattered the peloton. There was a kicker that was over 20% gradient that led to the final six circuits. I made it in a group of about ten of us. There was a breakaway that got away at the beginning of the race which ended up being the winning move and contained one of my teammates who ended up fourth which was cool. At the end of 4 hours of racing I wasn’t too tired which I was really happy with and means that I am adapting to the racing. I know that I need work on my tactics. I have been told that I can be too aggressive at times. (true statement – Joe) but I am happy that my form is coming along which is making me even more motivated.

 

The racing in Europe is really aggressive, teams are always trying to figure out ways they can blow up the peloton and these teams are strong. Many of them are the reserve teams or development teams for the biggest named teams in Europe. That makes every rider want to race even more aggressive and win so that they can make a mark for themselves. But every week seems to be an improvement, and I’m just searching for that first win of the season now. I have two races this coming weekend and I am really looking forward to them!

 

Thanks for reading. – Thorsten

 

The Process Matters

Anyone that has been paying attention will have noticed that I spend a lot of time in Salt Lake City. So much time in fact that I have received a few messages asking if I moved there. I haven’t. With that said I did spend a total of two months there last year and have already spent three weeks there in 2019 – with more visits planned.

Why?

Because your environment matters.

Because who you surround yourself with matters.

In Salt Lake there is a place with people in it that inspire me, that make me think, that make me reflect. It is a place where challenging conversations take place. And it is a place that I want to share with like minded individuals.


I have worked with and coached a number of athletes over the years. Some have won World Championships. Some have won National Championships. Some have stood on World Cup podiums and worn leader’s jerseys in UCI events.

And some have never come close to those results.

Often the athletes that fall under the later category are the ones that I have had the greatest pleasure working with.

Emily Alexander falls under the latter group. I have been working with Emily since the Fall of 2014. Within a very short time of working with her I could tell that she was paying attention and thinking about the process (sometimes maybe a little too much). And through that process she has learned a lot about herself.

Which is the point.

That is why when my friends in Salt Lake, Mark Twight and Michael Blevins, announced that they were having a symposium to discuss The Philosophy of Effort and that it coincided with the pre-launch of Mark’s book Refuge I suggested to Emily that she should check it out.

She signed up immediately.

I asked her after to reflect on that weekend and write about it.

Enjoy.


I have been on a journey. Realizing and committing to that journey…? That’s been a process. Confronting myself; not getting lured down perceived short-cuts, adapting and pushing through plateaus in performance or development of skills, recognizing when it’s time to leave or ask for help. It hasn’t been hard, but it’s getting easier.

 

I’ve always considered myself, and prided myself in being, a person who can “go with the flow”. This is also my biggest crutch. Leaning on it heavily, especially when things aren’t going the way I expected or would have planned. It’s typically the trait I’ve used to rationalize my way through different situations I’ve found myself encountering. Over the last four years, and at an accelerating rate within the last two, I finally realized my “flexibility” can quickly become a liability to my state of happiness, if not contentment. I have accepted a lot of what I am told I should and what has been given… Instead of getting acquainted with the discomfort of realizing I want more, and in time taking it.

 

You could say I started twitching…

 

This all came to an ascendant head at the Non-Prophet Symposium held in Salt Lake City in February. I didn’t really know what I was getting myself into when Joe sent me the link to the event and mentioned he thought it might be something I’d enjoy. I knew of the folks behind Non-Prophet, both, from Joe’s connection and lurking around the journal and mini-essay posts on their website and working my way through mind- and eye-opening episodes of The Dissect Podcast. I knew nothing about some of the effort they discussed and the intensity with which they discussed it, back-flips for time to highlight the absurdity of asking for “the secret workout for ripped abs” comes to mind. But I appreciated that they related everything back to “the process” of improvement. Making the process the absolute bedrock of how you build yourself into what you want to become, then also allowing you to deconstruct yourself and build anew if you so wish.

 

The topic of the Symposium was about “how to think” with an emphasis on the application of “strength for endurance for strength”, and though I did not know a lot about the application of those topics, I knew those topics interested me and I had questions, both for and of myself. I knew there was much I could learn from Mark Twight, Michael Blevins, and Chris “Burkey” Burkeybyle regarding all of it.

 

The weekend was a dam-bursting flood of discussions about and application of effort, questions, answers, rabbit hole questions that only have answers when you realize them for yourself, self-realization because of this metaphorical mirror being held up… Like Mary Poppins’ and her carpet bag, I’m still rummaging around inside, pulling out and connecting bigger and bigger pieces that I had no idea could have fit into those two days.

 

Since the Symposium, I’ve spent a lot of time sitting with my thoughts during activities and efforts, actively trying not to react in the moment and just noticing more of those things that I try to avoid and asking myself why not give them a try. Realizing that it typically comes down to “not knowing how” to do something, and where I used to let myself sit almost paralyzed, either by the not knowing or fear of failure; I now ask how, imitate, and test ways to do it that work for what I need this activity to do for me, and find the application to my primary endeavors. While the most immediate, and almost sub-conscious, transition I’ve noticed in the aftermath is how I talk to myself and talk myself into and through efforts. I had thought, and had been practicing, telling my negative voice to “just shut up” was the best way to get my mind set right. To overpower it with forceful, positive assertions. No, my negative voice hasn’t magically disappeared or somehow become less cutting, but I ask better questions of that voice when it tells me to quit. Those questions force it to look in its own mirror it tries to use to show how inadequate my efforts are and admit, “it just feels uncomfortable right now… and I don’t like it…?” To which, I use a phrase I used to only hear in Joe’s voice, but I’ve begun hearing in my own, “it’s not hard, but it’s not easy… come on, let’s go”.  – Emily

 

Thorsten Askervold Opens His Racing Account in France

Team Presentation

 

On the Sharp End

 

Small Roads. Big field.

 

Tête de la Course Cycling athlete Thorsten Askervold has been in Europe for a little over a month now. He got his first taste of European racing in the last few weeks. Here is his report.

Last week I had my first race of the season called Plages Vendeennes. It is a series of 6 races (not a stage race) so I can do the days that my team wants me to do. I ended up doing 4 of the 6 days. I had an idea of what to expect going into the first race because of what my teammates told me. That said, I was still surprised. Compared to the racing I’m used to in the U.S, the racing here is a lot more aggressive and chaotic. We were racing every km of the race which meant that there was really no time to relax which was the first thing I had to get used to. The race would be strung out but you still have to eat and drink during that time so that you don’t bonk later on. People are always trying to position during the race especially when key climbs come up or if the race is approaching small roads. So your mind just always has to be on and triggered. If you get lazy for like 10 sec, you might go from 15th position to 60th position instantly. When it came to the field sprints, positioning starts around 20-30 km to go. Crit racing in America can be aggressive but I found European racing to be even more so. Everyone is risking everything to cross that line first. Long story short, racing is definitely on another level here. I like it. I know that it will take some time to get used to the flow of racing here but I like the aggressive nature of it. My form is good, and feel like I can compete, especially when I get the flow down. So I am looking to get some results soon.

 

After the race I finally arrived at my new studio here in Laval France. I am really enjoying the lifestyle here, it is a lot more simple. It’s a small town with many farms and forests surrounding it. I walk to the little grocery store everyday for my food and fresh baguette. That’s another thing I’ve been trying to get used to, is that the French eat A LOT of bread. Especially for breakfast. The eating is a lot more simple in a way and it is always great quality and fresh food. I can taste the difference and it’s great.

 

The training roads here are beautiful and peaceful – very small quiet roads, passing through farms and a lot of super small towns with very old churches and castles. The roads can also be very hilly. It is hard to find flat roads for sure. Another thing to get used to was the small roads. Cars drive very close to you a lot of the time, they respect cyclist here, but they do drive close and at very fast speeds but it is because sometimes the roads are only about one lane wide. You always have to be watching the road whether it’s cars or cows crossing the road. The other nice part about living here is that I have teammates in the area and there are also pro riders to train with which means that there are always group rides happening which can make training a lot more fun.

 

My team has been great. Some of my teammates speak a little English and I have been trying to work on my French. It is definitely a hard language compared to English. But all of my teammates seem to be understanding of it and they help with my French (even if its bad words most of the time)…I get along well with everyone and which makes everything even better.

 

Life is great here.

 

I have my next race this Sunday. It’s a one day race called “Vallée de la Loire”. It should be a good one! Look for an update in the next coming week!

Thorsten Askervold Reports From Training Camp in Spain

Tête de la Course athlete Thorsten Askervold is racing this season with the French Division 2 team Laval Cyclisme 53 and will be posting about it here on the site. The team had its first training camp last week in Spain. Below is Thorsten’s post about it.

This last week I traveled to Lloret Del Mar Spain for my first team camp on my new team Laval Cyclisme 53. At first I was a little nervous to get there, knowing that this was my first time meeting the new teammates. For the first day it was a little difficult because I was trying to figure out how to communicate with them (since I speak very little French). But after that, and as the days went on it got easier and easier to talk with them and I felt like we all connected very well. Them not knowing a lot of English also forces me to learn French a lot quicker which is a good thing. That said it can be hard at times.

 

The first day I got there we didn’t ride because we got in pretty late in the day, however the following day we got in a decent ride doing a little over 4 1/2 hours. During that first day of riding I started to understand why a lot of pro cyclist choose to live in Spain. The roads are beautiful and scenic. The climbing is amazing. The weather is great. It honestly blew me away. I haven’t seen anything like it. It made every ride enjoyable.

 

The next day we had 2 rides. The first one we had to do a 15-20 minute test up a climb. I actually ended up having a decent test. I also wasn’t sure how my fitness was going to be since I was sick a lot before traveling to France but I ended up surprising myself. That was about a 2 hour ride in total. We got back and ate lunch and then headed out for our second ride where we ended up practicing TTT type work for another couple hours. The following day was another long day on the bike that ended up being 6 1/2 hours with almost 11,000 ft of climbing. Normally I would say that’s too much climbing, but I enjoyed every moment of it. Some of the mountains and valleys we rode in that day were amazing. Inside some of the valleys in the mountains were little hidden towns with beautiful castles. It felt like I was living in a fairytale.

 

I won’t go into detail of every day because that would be a lot but most of our days were a lot like that. The long endurance days and days with two rides with specific workouts made the training very interesting and fun. I had a blast. I really connected with the team, which was the best part of the trip. The camp was a success and I can not wait to get the season rolling. My first set of racing will start on February 16th. I don’t know what to expect, but I feel ready for it.

Thanks for reading. – Thorsten

Trying To Not Fall Through The Cracks – Thorsten Askervold Heads to France

The intro to this post took me a while to put together. I was struggling with the direction that I wanted to go while at the same time trying to not go off on a rant about the current state of bicycle racing for young riders trying to make a go of it. I am not entirely sure that I succeeded but I do know that at some point I just needed to hit “publish”. So here it goes……


I have been a part of what I will call “the development pathway” for young aspiring American cyclists for the past 10+ years. I have been a sport director for domestic based teams at both the elite amateur and continental level. I have worked for USA Cycling as a part of their European Junior Development Program based in Sittard, NL. I have also been the personal coach to a number of young athletes striving to reach the highest level of the sport. I have seen a number of riders succeed at various levels but I have also seen many of them fall through the cracks.

If a rider’s goal is to reach the highest rung of bike racing they need to spend time racing as much as possible and they need to continually strive to swim in bigger and bigger ponds. If circumstances are just right (they started early enough, they were surrounded by people that not only had good intentions but also some actual knowledge, maybe they got selected by the junior or U23 national team and got to race in Europe or they were able to get on a domestic based team that got them to enough of the right kinds of races with at least a bare minimum level of support and they were able to get some results that got them noticed by individuals and teams higher up the food chain) then that rider might just make it.

If however all of those things don’t quite stack up in the right order then that rider may end up falling through the cracks.

And that would be a shame.

It’s particularly disheartening to see riders with potential who just need a little more time to develop and because of that have a tough time finding just the right kind of environment to help them with that development. It is particularly tough now that many of the old amateur development teams that were successful like Cal-Giant or Hagens-Berman or Snow Valley have either been absorbed by bigger programs looking for more cash or have gone away altogether. And many times if those riders that need a little more time do find a team often those teams promise a lot but deliver very little (but that is a topic for another post).

I would characterize PNW based Thorsten Askervold as one of those riders. He has shown some potential but he could just as easily fall through the cracks.

I started working with Thorsten in the fall of 2017 after he decided to make a coaching change. He had some success as a junior, even winning a national title on the track. Success was harder to come by in his under 23 years though in part because I think he was pigeonholed as a track rider and a sprinter and his previous training seemed more geared toward that without the proper level of volume to help him succeed on the road. We started to build in some volume and he was able to get onto a team in 2018 that seemed like it might be a good one for his development. The reality ended up being something different. They didn’t travel to many high level races (and remember part of the development pathway is actually racing and racing in races that will get you noticed). The one PRT race that they did go to was Redlands. Unfortunately Thorsten was involved in a pretty bad crash just a week prior so Redlands didn’t go well for him. He did ok at BC Superweek later in the year but nothing I would call earth shattering. He was able to salvage a result by getting on the podium at track nationals in the scratch race towards the end of the year. But with no real results on the road (and a tough environment with many long time teams folding) he was looking at a potentially grim 2019 season with even less support. Those cracks I mentioned that he could fall through – they were getting bigger.

I made a few inquiries to some teams that I thought might fit for him but nothing materialized. He reached out to a number of teams himself including a few in Europe. He ended up with a couple of options including one from a French based amateur team and another from a Pacific Northwest based team. The French team was going to be a stretch financially with the move so he decided to spend one more year racing domestically with the idea that he could save some money and then try for Europe again in the future. The PNW team was going to be a no frills affair but had a rather ambitious race schedule and two older riders (one a former continental pro who I also just started working with) who could mentor him so it seemed like a decent option. But then exactly two weeks into 2019 the team informed everyone that the company funding the team was declaring bankruptcy and there would in fact be no team.

Classic.

Classic, disappointing, but not surprising, especially if you have been around this sport for any amount of time. I could write numerous pieces about teams that promise a lot but deliver very little or in this case nothing at all. I felt bad for all the riders involved especially since January is a little, well actually A LOT late to try and find another team. I felt really bad for the young guys on the team like Thorsten (and got a little pissed because, like I said, I have seen this over and over and over again). Now those cracks were getting even bigger.

Thorsten reached out to the French team again. Fortunately they still had a spot for him and Thorsten and his family decided that he should just go for it. Things moved pretty fast from there and last week Thorsten boarded a plane for Paris. To say that I am psyched for him would be an understatement.

Those cracks just started getting smaller.

It’s not going to be easy. Living and racing in a foreign country on a foreign team and not knowing the language is going to be an entirely different level of stress and I am sure that he will find himself way outside of his comfort zone on more than one occasion. But this is a great opportunity which I am certain Thorsten will make the most of. I know that he is super motivated and that can carry you pretty far. He will be submitting posts throughout the season here on the site describing his time living and racing in France. Here is his first. I hope that you enjoy it.

 

Knowing that this was my first time ever being to Europe, I had no clue what to expect. It’s crazy to also think that this is my first time to Europe, yet I’m moving here. I arrived in Paris on the 21st and spent 4 days in the city staying with my family, they live in the center of Paris only a 7 min walk to the Eiffel Tower. Paris was a dream…. No matter how many times I’ve heard about it from family and all the times I’ve seen it on tv, it was an experience that I will never forget. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, the food unbelievable, and the people were very welcoming. Honestly it felt like another world.

 

A little background of my family history. All of my family on my dad’s side of the family comes from France, my grandma was born in Paris, my dad was born in the US but he lived in France for a while and he did professional swimming for the French National team. So when I arrived my family picked me up and the crazy thing is that as soon as I landed it felt like home. I feel like I was meant to come here. I normally don’t feel like things happen for a reason, but with all that has happened to get me here I can’t help but feel like this part of my life happened for a reason. After my time in Paris eating great food and spending time with family I hopped on a TGV which is a high speed train to Laval where I will live and where my team is based out of.

 

When I arrived my Team President, Vice President and Manager greeted me. Next we drove to the big chocolate shop “Monbana” which is one of our title sponsors. Waiting there was the President of the Chocolate shop and multiple reporters waiting to interview me about my arrival and my ambitions for the racing season. It was a great time meeting all the sponsors, answering questions and taking pictures.

 

On the 27th I will have my first team trip in Lloret Del Mar, Spain. It will be the location of our team camp. That will be an 8 day trip, then I will fly back to Laval and arrive at my new studio apartment. Then 2 weeks later my racing season begins. The city of Paris was nice, but I can’t wait to get to the countryside and start training more on my bike and to start thinking about the season. It has been a little difficult communicating since I don’t speak fluent French yet, so hopefully I can learn quickly. This next month will be crazy I’m sure but I’m taking everything day by day and I’m staying positive. But it feels like home here and I can’t complain.

 

If you’re reading this and are curious about my team, its a division 2 French team called “Laval Cyclisme 53”. Check them out on all social media, I will also be sharing all of my experiences here in France. All of my writes ups will be here on “Tete De la Course” run by my coach Joe Holmes. So take a look at the website!!! Will keep you all posted 🙂

 

2018….Not Bad. Not Bad At All.

 

A VERY BIG GOAL REACHED

The ten year journey that Logan Owen and I began in 2008 reached the long term goal this year when he signed his World Tour contract with Education First. Developing Logan from a junior in Bremerton, WA to a World Tour Pro living in Belgium – I know that “Pride” may be one of the “Seven Deadly Sins” – that said, I am very proud of what Logan and I have been able to accomplish together. Now for the next chapter.

 

BACK ON THE DOMESTIC CIRCUIT

 

I journeyed back to Arkansas this past spring to be the guest director for the Texas Roadhouse Cycling Team at the Joe Martin Stage Race. It was nice being back on the U.S. Domestic Circuit after a 2 year hiatus.

 

BACK TO EU WITH USA CYCLING JUNIOR DEVELOPMENT

 

Checking another country off the list when I journeyed to the Czech Republic with USA Cycling’s Junior National Team for The Peace Race.

 

ANOTHER SUCCESSFUL DERBY DAYS CRIT

2018 was the 7th year that Tête de la Course Cycling produced The Redmond Derby Days Criterium and the 7th year that long time partner Castelli was involved.

 

As always – champagne for the Derby Days winner to spray

 

LOTS OF PODIUM APPEARANCES 

 

Logan Owen made it onto the podium as Most Aggressive Rider in his first World Tour Race at The Tour Down Under

 

Kaia Schmid made her way onto three different National Championship podiums in three different disciplines this year in the junior women 15-16 category. Remember that name.

 

Thorsten Askervold won the bronze in the scratch race at this year’s elite men’s National Track Championships.

 

There were A LOT of podium presentations for the 15-16 USA Cycling Junior group that I directed in EU in August!

 

Luke Lamperti – only the second American to win The Tour of West Flanders.

 

Only two Americans have won the overall at The West Flanders Tour, Logan Owen in 2011 and Luke Lamperti in 2018. It was an honor to play a small role in both.

 

Heidi Franz in her first UCI Classification Jersey – QOM at The Tour de l’Ardeche

 

LOTS OF GREAT RIDES (and Recovery Drinks After)

Riding with old friends and making some new – including World Champion Peter Sagan this past summer in Park City, Utah.

 

Recovery beer with my friend Sylvester in Park City. I met Sylvester last year at the UCI Coaching Course and we have stayed in touch. Suffice it to say, bike riding can open many doors to new friends and new experiences in a lot of new places.

 

I took the plunge and got myself a gravel bike this year. Just this ride alone up Deer Park in the Olympic Peninsula that i did in October with Heidi Franz was worth it.

 

Seriously though, Heidi thought that this ride was Numero Uno!

 

A Coke and a…..grimace? Mark Twight at the half way point during “Training Camp”

 

Nothing makes me happier than a great ride with my friends. 2018 was a great one – onward to 2019!

Physical Effort.

Conversation.

Art.

It’s The People – Always.

Who you are. Who you surround yourself with.

That is what matters.

The Momentum is Building.

View things with the experience of time without the shackles of what you thought back then. Hold on and know that you will change.

HEIDI FRANZ GOES TO EUROPE

ZaneFreebairn

Heidi in the QOM Jersey after Stage 2 of Tour de l’Ardeche

 

Tête de la Course athlete Heidi Franz made a couple of trips across the pond this season racing with both the U.S. National Team and her domestic team, Rally Cycling. There were some ups and downs (because….bike racing) but at the end of it all she proved (once again) that she was up for the challenge and ready for more. Here is her report:

 

Attempting to summarize my experiences racing in Europe over the last couple months is a pretty daunting task. In a way, it felt like a season’s worth of lessons and experience gained in just a month and a half of racing, and I can say that I’m a different, better, and more confident bike racer for it. I know that I’m lucky in being able to say that – racing in Europe for the first time is not easy, nor is it everyone’s favorite part of the year. My two trips there this year had quite a progression in the physical, technical, and emotional challenges that I took on. Nervousness to confidence, excitement to turmoil, and from feeling strong to just barely running on fumes. Getting both my legs and my mind to cooperate was extremely difficult, but proved not impossible.

 

Over the last couple of years, I’ve learned that there are a few different ways to approach your “firsts” in bike racing. The biggest lesson: it’s risky to focus on them to begin with. Something being your first time can become an excuse for not giving your best effort. There have been times when I’ve caught myself thinking “well, this is the first time I’ve ever done something like this, it’s okay if I just sit back here and let whatever happens, happen.” There is a time and place for that mentality, especially if you’re coming back from an injury or other setback. However, there’s danger if that mindset becomes a habit – you may never see the pointy end of a bike race, and most importantly, it doesn’t help your team. There comes a point when firsts don’t really matter anymore. I’ve learned that no matter what, whether it’s your first bike race or 10,000th, there is always something to learn or improve on when you put yourself in the driver’s seat and get out of your comfort zone.

 

Racing outside of North America for the first time was a big step, and a really big test for me – definitely outside my comfort zone. Talking to anyone about the upcoming trip came with versions of the same response – “it’s rough and tough out there”, “be prepared to get your teeth kicked in”, “it’s ‘real bike racing’, “the roads are half the size”, “there are roundabouts and road medians for days”, “the cobbles are legit”, and “the Europeans will smack you”.

 

All of those things are true.

 

Mentally preparing for the trip was a big part of the challenge. After all, I was bit of a gamble. The same people would say “you’ll be fine” or “you might feel out-gassed”, and I had to decide for myself how I would approach the challenge. So, I decided to treat it as if I were relearning how to bike race. I’d prepare myself in the best way I could, control what I could control up to the start line, but during the race I’d need to be willing to adapt on the fly and throw out any expectations of how I thought the next few hours should go. It reminded me of another memorable first that I checked off just over a year ago. The Redlands Bicycle Classic in 2017 was my first stage race, and my first-time racing in an American pro field. Wearing the colors of the Amy D Foundation, riders that I had only read about and looked up to from afar became my competitors. I was in awe of people like Kirsti Lay, Amber Neben, Ruth Winder, Katie Hall…women I never imagined being in the same race with, let alone on the same team a year later. To keep myself from getting overwhelmed by that, I had to leave my expectations of myself at the door and objectively focus on each day at a time. The racing was faster and harder than I’d ever experienced, and it took all my mental strength to stay focused every second. As a result, I learned how to be adaptable, to trust my instinct, and fight hard as hell. Europe was the best place to put those lessons to test- in addition to withholding my total Euro bike racer fan-girling.

 

That didn’t last too long.

 

I could barely hold my shit together when Sanne Cant, the women’s Cyclocross World Champion, lined up behind me for the BeNe Ladies Tour prologue. And when I held Marianne Vos’ wheel through several cobble sectors on an epic Stage 1, I nearly peed in my chamois. But then “HEIDI MOVE UP” went through my head and that was the end of the fan-girling. If I wasn’t moving up, I was going backwards, and I needed every second of focus I had to get through the day. One lapse could mean my wheel succumbing to the infamous Belgian “death crack”, or accidentally steering off course into a cornfield, or someone’s cow pasture.

 

“Middle!”

 

“Small!”

 

“Auto!”

 

“AAHHH!”

 

Those were just a few important things to keep your ears open for.  

 

At each finish, my mind was sore as if I’d just taken a five-hour SAT test. But I didn’t want to take a backseat to the racing. Personally, I knew that if I could engage in the racing here in the throws in Belgium, I could do it again elsewhere. And as for the team, we needed to prove that we belonged in this field. No one was going to take a backseat if they could help it.

 

We had proven at BeNe that as a team we were ready to show up and be competitive. Then, in London, at the Women’s World Tour RideLondon Classique, we put that on display to another 20,000 people or so in front of Queen Elizabeth’s house. It was alright I guess, just a little bit loud. In the last kilometer of the race, a slap on my leg from winner Kirsten Wild confirmed that we’d made an impression as I brought Emma up to the tail of the Wiggle-High5 leadout train. And I knew for myself that I wasn’t brought to Europe just to get shelled by the big girls at first sight. A test in the throws of Belgium and another with the world’s best in London, and I had relearned to race my bike. I had the tools to adapt, focus, and be present in the European field, and I really couldn’t wait to go back.  

 

Well, to my surprise I got to go back, all of about three weeks later. If I hadn’t gotten out of my comfort zone enough with the first trip, this second trip would make sure of that and then some. When you get used to racing at a consistent level of difficulty, you can learn how to cope with small mistakes or moments of weakness without compromising a whole week’s worth of racing. In North America, you can be just “ok” at getting bottles from the car without too many consequences. The roads are wider, so weaving your way back up the 10-car-deep caravan to feed your teammates isn’t such a daunting task. But when you step up to that bigger stage, the cracks that are your insecurities or weaknesses become more visible and harder to fill in. Fetching those bottles might be the most important thing you do in the race that day, and if you can’t do it successfully, even the chance of a team result can disappear. I knew that at The Boels Ladies Tour and Tour de l’Ardeche, I’d be pushed physically beyond my limit and cracks were going to show, gaps in fitness that I wasn’t going to be able to fill. If fetching bottles from the team car was the most important thing I could do all week, then so be it. Let’s just say that I got a lot of practice fetching bottles at those races. But getting to do that when I’m wearing the colors of the US National Team is a pretty cool thing, even when it’s stage five of a WorldTour stage race in Holland and I’ve chased my way back to the peloton four times already. I’d never suffered on a bike so much before (definitely jinxed myself there) and yet, I’d look down at the jersey I was wearing and keep going. Over here, there were no crits to break up the chain of 80+ mile days we’d had in a row, and my mind always had to be turned on.  Always alert, always focused- except for those couple hours on stage 3 when the peloton was happy to let one rider stay five minutes up the road. We were going so slow that even Annemiek Van Vleuten, leading the race, stopped behind the peloton for a pee break. That was a nice and welcomed exception, but it was short lived – the last 18 miles of the same stage wouldn’t come close to the speed of any crit I’d ever raced in my life. Annemiek even said to one of her teammates, “I’m scared, move me up.”

 

Heidi Franz (USA) comes back for bottles at Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l'Ardèche 2018 - Stage 4, a 116.3km road race from Chateauneuf de Gadagne to Mont Serein, France on September 15, 2018. Photo by Sean Robinson/velofocus.com

Heidi Franz (USA) comes back for bottles at Tour Cycliste Féminin International de l’Ardèche 2018 – Stage 4, a 116.3km road race from Chateauneuf de Gadagne to Mont Serein, France. Photo by Sean Robinson/velofocus.com

 

After spending a few great weeks with the U.S. team, I was back in orange to put together everything I’d learned over the season into one last race, The Tour de l’Ardèche. Oh, but Ardeche. It really deserves its own separate race report but I’ll try to give it justice here. In short: to cope with my outstandingly high fatigue level, the brutality of climbing as high as Mt. Rainier over 2.5 times, I ate my body weight in cheese, baguettes, mint tabbouleh, salami slices, and French pastries for six days. A couple of whole pizzas, a very special praline brioche, and frites got lost in there too. In proper form, it was a race of incredible highs and absolute lowest of lows. One of my proudest days on the bike was followed up with one of the most brutal. While wearing my first UCI classification leader’s jersey (QOM) in a bike race, I nearly stopped pedaling on the side of a hill to cry and think about what I was doing there. The previous two hours had felt like a whole week, and I still had two more hours to go. I had literally and figuratively run out of gears, and it was only day two. When I crossed the finish line next to my teammate I was cracked open and terrified of the four days ahead. Meanwhile, my teammate Sara Poidevin (aka Robot T-1000) was having the most impressive race of her season, and she would need absolutely every bullet that the remaining four of us had left to help her. To stay in the game I had to be really careful to use my energy in a moment when it was most needed, otherwise I’d disappear fast. Sure enough, I made it through the next day and the next. I was never not on the brink of total self-destruction, but I had learned when to use my one or two bullets every day, and when to let the race go up the road. Then, I could take a second to look around at where I was, and remember how lucky I was to be there, eating glorious French goat cheese and staring at castle ruins with 170 other bike racers.

 

All year, with each race I started, I did something for the first time. Had I been without my mentors, coach, family, partner, team, and community, I wouldn’t have had the strength to welcome the discomfort of learning. This year was not about my results as an individual but about how I learned to handle pressure, find and push limits, and stand up for myself too. It’s not going to get easier (you just get faster, right?), but at least I can breathe knowing I don’t have to prove myself capable of a challenge.

 

Thanks for reading, it’s been an incredible year. Here’s to an even better one in 2019.

2018 REDMOND DERBY DAYS CRITERIUM

 

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Pre-registration will be open until 10pm PST on Thursday, July 12. To register go here:

2018 Derby Days Registration with USA Cycling

HEIDI FRANZ – U.S. PRO NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS REPORT

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Heidi Franz – on the sharp end of Sunday’s road race – photo by John Hollingsworth

Tête de la Course athlete Heidi Franz had one hell of a race at U.S. Pro last weekend. For those of you who didn’t see the live stream of the road race, Heidi was off the front in a break from lap 4 to lap 9 and most of lap 9 she was solo after dropping her breakaway companions. She was caught with less than 5 km to go.

However, her first time at U.S. Pro Championships did not start out “as planned” due to a hell day of travel involving delayed flights, cancelled flights and lost baggage. She managed to make some lemonade though. Here is her report:

When I got to Knoxville and was preparing for the road race on Sunday, I was thinking “Oh man, I should definitely write up some kind of report for Nationals. It’ll be easy, no problem.” And then Sunday happened and my task became so much harder. Not that it was going to be easy to begin with. After all, it’s a National Championship, and nothing about it is, or should be, easy.

 

This was my first trip to Pro Road Nationals, and I don’t think I’m alone in saying that this race is just different. Obviously I don’t have multiple years to back up that statement but even as a newbie it became very clear, very fast, that this event was unlike any kind of challenge I had lined up for. Being so coveted, the build-up is enormous and it absolutely requires that your best fall right in line with that race, that day. There’s no prize money, but there’s a jersey, and the pride of being the owner of that jersey for a whole year in the eye of the cycling world. It’s a big freakin’ deal.

 

For some people, this is a race that always escapes them. The game doesn’t play out in their favor in the first few laps and suddenly the race is up the road. For others, they might get one step closer, year after year, and the one thing that turns their race around can be such a seemingly small detail. Having one extra bottle of water, one less moment of hesitation, one more teammate, or one simple check back at who’s behind you. Depending on who’s there, that look can either mentally extinguish your fight, or keep you going. More on that later. All in all, the whole experience is fascinating to be around and to be a part of, racing against some of the world’s absolute best for the first time.

 

For me, Nationals resembled something like a coming of age. That sounds ridiculously cliché and part of me cringes writing that out, but that’s the best way I can describe it. All week, there were many emotional hoops and challenges to jump through, whether I felt ready for them or not. For example, when I drove from Nashville to Knoxville the day before the time trial without any of my bags it forced me to say “f$%* it”, drink the beer[s] that my director gave me, and make the most out of the [Joker] cards I was dealt. I didn’t have a whole lot to lose in those 32 minutes, and I quickly figured out how it feels to race a ProNats Time Trial after not riding a bike for two days. Turns out it really sucks, and it wasn’t a surprise that I didn’t do well. But it drove me to take each following day as its own isolated challenge. It made no sense to stay awake all night wondering, what if my bags hadn’t gotten lost? Eh, who knows. What if I had taken one more caffeine gel 20 minutes earlier? Eh, who knows. What if it had been 80% humidity instead of 99%? Those seemingly small details I was talking about- you can’t really control 95% of them. What you do with that other 5% is what can make something worthwhile. (Sure, go ahead and put that on a motivational fitness ad.)

 

So it’s Crit Day. Need to make lemonade out of that 5%. Warmed up on the trainer before the start, went to the bathroom approximately seven times, lowered my tire pressure to 68psi because it was raining (for real!), put that weird smelling stuff on Oakleys that sheds water, and went over the race plan in my head. Again. And…again. Probably too many times, because if you stick to the plan literally and don’t start reacting to what’s happening right in front of you, pretty soon you’ll finish the race with your teammate in 2nd.

 

Then, you’ll be asking yourself (1) why do I still have energy and where should I have spent it and (2) Did I just forget how to race my bike for a second there?

 

Cool, another lesson learned. Communicate with your teammates, read the race in front of you and not the one in your ears, and use the energy that you have!! What better place to relearn that than the US Pro National Championships? [Insert sarcastic *eyebrow raise* here.] I had fun reflecting on that, sitting in my soaking wet chamois while I ate my dinner in the team van. Back at the motel, Summer, Emma and I went swimming in our cheeky motel pool to wash off the day. Debrief done, we’d better make tomorrow count. Everyone else will be doing the same thing.

 

You may have seen a picture at the end of the road race, where Emma is putting her hand on my shoulder after a hug while I’m bursting into tears. I’m a pretty emotional person but there are only two times when I’ve finished a race and cried. The first time was when I felt that I’d truly let down my teammates and disappointed myself in the process. Here it was because for the first time I honestly believed that my teammates and I had done everything that we possibly could have done to get ourselves the National Championship. It felt different than any race I had ever finished before. Everyone rode out of their skin and with full confidence that we could pull it off. I wasn’t crying because I was sad that my breakaway adventure ended with 2.5 miles left in the race or even that Emma had finished 3rd. We took advantage of every minute, every move that we could control and left nothing else in the tank, and it was something to be incredibly proud of. Personally, I got to have the best ride I have ever had, knowing 100% that I was lucky to be racing for such a worthy teammate in Emma. Feeling truly drained and exhausted in the best possible way, I could only just hug her and be proud of the effort.

 

“Just over this last one Heidi, as hard as you can. Over the top. Keep going. This is it.”

 

I didn’t have to think about what regrets or stresses I’d had from the days before, and I didn’t have to look back at who was behind me until the last second, because I already knew.

 

After the time trial on Thursday, my teammate and friend Brad Huff told me that over the next two days, I’d surprise myself.

 

He couldn’t have been more right.

SnowyMtnPhotography

This is what it looks like to give 100% – photo by Snowy Mountain Photography